Kristen Wishon

Kristen Wishon

Sculpting Steel in the Steel City

Thursday, 20 June 2019 09:59

By day, you’ll find Saige Baxter at the Mobile Sculpture Workshop at Propel Schools where she serves as a welding mentor for Pittsburgh youth. The outreach program of the Industrial Arts Center gives the community an opportunity to design and complete public art while learning proper welding techniques. However, Baxter’s days are entrenched with wielding fire, melting metals and learning about communities.

The Pittsburgh native attended Seton Hill University, where she originally studied painting. After taking a sculpture class, her career quickly shifted paths. Since then, Baxter has worked diligently in the metal arts and created several site-specific outdoor sculptures. Her focus has been on creating public outdoor art. She’s now shifting to creating indoor structures.

Baxter was also named The Emerging Artist of The Year by the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts and Media in February 2019. You can look forwarding to seeing Baxter’s work in a solo exhibition at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts alongside Dee Briggs, The Established Artist of the Year.

Saige Baxter, photo by Murphy Moshetta
Saige Baxter, photo by Murphy Moshetta


Abby Fudor with visiting artist Jaime Moyer, improvising on stage as part of the Arcade's 5th anniversary production in 2018. Photo by Mike Rubino.When Arcade Comedy Theater first opened its doors in 2013, it hosted an intimate 75-seat theater. Only a year later, it was rated the Best Comedy Venue by Pittsburgh Magazine’s Best of the Burgh. Today, Arcade Comedy Theater has more than 1,000 shows under its belt, and has welcomed more than 50,000 visitors to the Cultural District.

Abby Fudor, cofounder and managing artistic director at the Arcade, helps her team roll out a menu of high-quality comedic performances each week. You can see Abby at the Arcade on stage as a member of the improv team Warp Zone, co-producer and host of the live game show You’re the Next Contestant, or directing the Arcade’s kid-friendly comedy show Penny Arcade.

The premiere of Surround, named after the six harps placed around the audience, at the Pittsburgh Opera in 2018.

Alia Musica is shining a light on new music in Pittsburgh, whether that’s highlighting modern composers or rethinking major 20th and 21st century figures. The organization was first created in 2006 by local composers looking for a place to showcase their music and collaborate with other Pittsburgh-based musicians.

Translating as “another music,” Alia Musica continues to feature unexpected ensembles balancing a grassroots component with a commitment to artistic quality. Co-founder and Artistic Director Federico Garcia-De Castro says that their work resonates “with audiences who expect the unexpected in our performances.”

Federico Garcia-De Castro conducting Alia Musica at City of Asylum in 2019 ("Music and Poetry from the Colombian Conflict"). Photo by Teake Zuidema.Garcia-De Castro moved to the U.S. in 2001 from Colombia with his goals set to pursue a degree in music composition. Since then, he has performed in ten countries, most recently in Australia, Austria, and Italy. He was featured composer at the 2015 MusicArte Festival in Panama and the 2014 Thailand International Composition Festival, among others.

April Artist Spotlight | Lyn Starr

Monday, 15 April 2019 08:49


Lyn Starr, photo by Chris WiseFor Pittsburgh musician and classically trained vocalist Lyn Starr, inspiration comes from underground musicians, especially those that display authenticity in their music.

Lyn received $20,000 from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council’s Lift Grant earlier this year. Funding will allow Starr to record "Universe 25," a conceptual rap EP based on the research of John B. Calhoun, American ethologist and behavioral researcher, investigating how living in utopia changes behavior.

Congress looks very different from 2018, the last time Pittsburgh’s arts advocates hit the hallways of Capitol Hill for Arts Advocacy Day. There are 93 new House Members in the 116th Congress, of which 34 are women. The House has also become more diverse, with states electing their first Black, Hispanic, Native American and Muslim female officials.

These changes, along with the political reality that arts funding was not at risk this year, made for an encouraging National Arts Action Summit on March 5 in Washington, D.C.

Hosted by Americans for the Arts, the National Arts Action Summit is the largest and only gathering of its kind on Capitol Hill – there is nothing like it. This year’s Summit brought together nearly 500 delegates to call for increased funding to the National Endowment for the Arts, among other issues. The Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council was joined by other local arts leaders last week to advocate for the arts at the federal level, including City Theatre, Arts Education Collaborative, The Heinz Endowments, and The Pittsburgh Foundation.


Pennsylvania arts advocates met in Washington, DC on March 4 and 5. Credit: Celeste Smith 

“We’re gaining insights into the national policy agenda and how we can take that back to our community, locally and regionally,” said Shaunda McDill, program officer for arts & culture at The Heinz Endowments, who attended last week’s event. “We’re in a unique position to help ensure we’re getting what we need back home."

Artist Spotlight | Mikael Owunna

Monday, 11 March 2019 11:35

The monthly artist spotlight is a new project of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. As part of this new series, you'll meet a variety of artists in the region and learn more about their craft. 

Meet Mikael Owunna, an ultraviolet photographer and recent Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council Lift grant recipient. Using his engineering background, Mikael has developed a unique photography technique by augmenting his flash to transmit ultraviolet light. Pieces from his project, “Infinite Essence,” are currently viewable in The Big Room at GPAC’s offices as part of the Art on the Walls program.

Launching City Studies

Monday, 26 November 2018 16:32

 A conversation between City Theatre’s Director of New Play Development Clare Drobot and Director of Education and Accessibility Kristen Link.

Sitting in City Theatre's administrative offices, with cubicles across from one and other, Clare and Kristen are frequently in conversation about ways to support the artistic community of Pittsburgh. On a recent snowy afternoon, they had the chance to chat about City’s latest educational offerings.

Two women sitting in a cubicle, facing the camera and sharing a bright blue blanket, smiling.

Kristen: It’s been a long term goal of mine to expand the educational offerings of City Theatre outside of a traditional academic setting.

Clare: We call our offices cubicle row and often when we receive inquiries or applications for teaching artists, interns, administrative positions or even play submissions or audition materials, we wish were able to offer in-depth feedback to applicants. While that’s not always feasible in an application process, it leads to conversations often including our colleague Artistic Producer Reginald L. Douglas (or as we say in the office Reg) about how we can share best practices for compiling submission materials. Through these discussions, we’ve noticed that there are few professional development opportunities outside of the classroom in town.

Kristen: All of us on staff, be it through internships, conferences, or other opportunities have all benefited from experiences gained working in the field.

Clare: It feels like part of City’s role in Pittsburgh is to be able to share our knowledge and experiences with the artistic community.

Kristen: Exactly! It’s beneficial to every arts organization in town to have a strong pool of arts administrators, teachers, actors, and playwrights.

Clare: So that was the inspiration behind City Studies—which is subtitled a studio for working artists—to offer affordable opportunities for growth.

Kristen: Really, the workshops are a chance to be able to explore your craft further with other professionals eager to expand their skillsets.

Clare: Hence the pilot program we’ve created. We’re testing out four initial offerings and the hope is to add additional courses in the spring including a directing seminar with Artistic Director Marc Masterson and a crash course in non-profit budgeting with Managing Director James McNeel.

Kristen: With any hope this will kick start the desire for expanded offerings that could span a semester or season.

Clare: We’re excited to hear from the community in terms of what they’re looking to learn. We’re working with one outside artist, actor Cotter Smith. We’d heard from multiple artists who had studied the little know Stanislavsky technique Active Analysis with Cotter how transformative that work had been and he was game to join us in this initial experiment.

Kristen: The staff at City cares deeply for the artistic community in Pittsburgh and we hope that through this endeavor we can support frequent collaborators and have the opportunity to forge new connections.

Clare: Right! If you have thoughts or questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Kristen or me. We’re always open to the conversation unless we’re watching cute dog and/or raccoon videos (not that that never happens during business hours).

For more information on our first four seminars you can visit City Theatre's website, here.


Portrait of an African American man in his 30s, looking into the camera and smiling and wearing a grey button-up shirt.

This is a transcribed phone interview between Jen Saffron, Director of Communications for the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council, and Reg Douglas, Artistic Producer for City Theatre Company.

You're the artistic producer for a prolific theater company - I'm sure you've seen a lot of plays. What led you to Pipeline?
I remember when I saw the play in the summer of 2017 with City’s Director of New Play Development Clare Drobot – we are both friends with the playwright and in love with Dominique’s work – I was completely blown away by it. I so appreciated the honesty of the relationships and circumstances and experiences that Dominique was sharing. Pipeline is a wonderfully courageous examination of race, education, love, legacy, and America. I am so proud to be able to share this story with a Pittsburgh audience.

Pipeline centers on a relationship between a Black son and his mother, the hopes and fears that she has as he grows up. I really identify with that story – growing up surrounded by love in my household and family, but still often feeling at a loss as to how to best fit into this culture and this country where love feels denied for Black men in particular. Given the cultural assumptions about black male identity being rooted in anger and rage – which is not true – how does one find joy and hope in a society that is set up to only frame black men in terms of pain and loss? That is a question I am always interested in using art to investigate, as well as what are the limits of love? Are there any? I feel like Pipeline is an interrogation of these questions.

The play is a love story. Dominique has written a love letter to Black men and Black mothers. I think at the core of the play is how strong the bonds of family are. In the midst or in spite of both our country’s complicated history and present relationship with race, the play shows how love can still survive and thrive.
Three actors on stage - a middle aged white woman on the left, talking with a Black police officer on the right while a Black female sits at a table, between them. The Black officer's hand is outstretched.

We're in a place and time in our society when art is becoming even more of a vehicle for addressing tough topics - racism and violence during a time of rising actions of White Nationalists, for example. How can a play, and in this case a newer play, help?
I think that the power of good theater, and that’s what we want to make at City Theatre, is to reflect the world as both it is and as it could be. I hope that our production is honest in is specificity, but also that it imagines a world that surpasses our own. Our job in the theater is not to put book reports and news reports on stage, but to create art, to use magic and music and theatricality to help us to better understand the facts as well as find ways to overcome them.

Twenty Black women - leaders in the arts and our communities - have been asked to lead Post-Show Conversations - what do you hope these conversations will inspire?
I hope that the conversations show that this story is a Pittsburgh story. I hope that they inspire a dialogue between people who are normally not talking to each other. The ultimate goal of these conversations is to foster empathy and unity. I think that’s the goal for many artists – to use art to create deeper understanding – and it is certainly the goal of this production. The post-show conversations create a space where audiences can go on that journey towards deeper understanding together.

The post-show conversations have been overwhelmingly amazing. One of the most inspiring things of my career at City has been to witness long-time subscribers, first-time theatergoers, young people, old people, people of diverse nationalities and neighborhoods being courageous enough to share their experience of the play and what’s happening in our city and our country. It really feels like a community coming together to think, engage, live differently and I could not be prouder to be a part of fostering that dialogue and spirit.

Pipeline vertical imageThis play centers around a young Black man and you've collaborated with 1Hood, young Black men and also women, on the sound for this play. I often find that collaborations, when done well, transform and inform each participant. How was working with 1Hood  transformative for you, and what do you think were some takeaways for them?
I knew early on that I wanted to use 1Hood’s music in the show. They were one of the first organizations that I encountered when I moved to Pittsburgh and I have remained a big fan. It was a dream come true working with them on this production. Their artistry, feedback, thoughts, and ideas have been vital to every step of the production process for me and for the whole artistic team, including our amazing sound designer Zachary Beattie-Brown. The word transformative is spot-on. I think that the collaboration working with 1Hood has transformed how City Theatre thinks about being a community leader and community connector. I think all of our staff echoes the desire to continue to connect meaningfully with local artists and to provide space for them to tell their stories and share their work on our stages.

Some of the 1Hood artists were actually just here in the theater today. They’ve become deeply impassioned about theater-making and have interests that I hope we can find ways to support going forward.

And you know, I think very critically as an African-American artist and arts administrator of color in this city, and one of the only ones on the artistic side at our local theaters, about who is given opportunity to share; who is taking up space where and when and how; who is in power; who is making decisions. I helped provide a group of extraordinarily talented African-American artists with power by offering space and resources to make their art and share it with new audiences. That is a dream come true.
a double portrait of an African American woman laughing and squinting, in a brightly printed dress, and to her left an African American male in a baseball hat and windbreaker, calm face, looking directly into the camera.

What do you think educators here in Pittsburgh might say about Pipeline?
That’s a good question. We worked with quite a few educators on the production. We have two student matinees, and Pittsburgh Public Schools is sponsoring one of them. The teachers at Westinghouse High School also invited us to visit as a research trip and came to the show this weekend. And we have also worked with the staff at Shuman Juvenile Detention Center. The education community in this city has been very supportive.

I think this play shows how hard many teachers are working to provide the best educational experience that they can. Something in the play that I have always been struck by is the respect that Dominique gives the teachers. She even dedicates the play to her mom who is a teacher. I have heard from educators in Pittsburgh and beyond about how much they enjoyed the play and I think that is because the piece allows them to see their lives reflected with honesty and dignity. Like the mother in the play, I think that many of the best teachers are leading with love, and I have the utmost respect for that.

Pipeline, by Dominique Morriseau, runs through Sunday with evening performances W-Sat and matinees Saturday and Sunday. Tickets, information about the play, and showtimes are right here.

1Hood Media will performThursday, November 15, 2018, 6pm at the Andy Warhol Museum at their Artivist Academy Showcase. Pay-what-you-can, information and reservations, here.

Photography by Kristi Jan Hoover, featuring the cast of Pipeline and members of 1Hood: Nambi E. Kelley (Nya), Krystal Rivera (Jasmine), Carter Redwood (Omari), Sheila McKenna (Laurie), Gabriel Lawrence (Dun), and Khalil Kain (Xavier). 1Hood portraits featuring Jacquae Mae and livefromthecity.




Let it Rain: Stacy Levy, environmental artist

Wednesday, 31 October 2018 10:12

Artist reaching up to touch her mobile sculpture hanging from the ceiling in blue balls.

Stacy Levy: “It feels good to go back into Pittsburgh. I’ve done a lot more in Pittsburgh since I’ve moved to Central PA –I am glad to come back in this period because Pittsburgh needs all the liveliness, warmth and togetherness that it can have.” Stacy Levy will be live on stage with Walter Hood and Alisha B. Wormsley on Thursday, November 8, 2018 at Hill House for Green Building Alliance's Inspire Speaker Series. Tickets and information, here.

JS: Your art embodies how nature works and not just as an illustration - like Rain Ravine for the Frick Environmental Center. What do you hope your work actually does?
SL: It’s a real collaboration with nature. A lot of artwork pictures how nature works, but I’ve also really tried to move my work so that it’s both collaborating with natural forces and in some cases, working to fix some issue in the landscape.

The first thing is that Rain Ravine was very much a team process. I am a big believer that some of the next environmental artworks are going to be generated in these multidisciplinary settings, because nobody has all the answers in their discipline anymore. You have to share your head in order to come up with new solutions, because the old solutions are not solving the issues. We need new solutions for how we live with nature, in the city. It’s not going to be just engineers who decide where the rain goes – because they’ve been putting the same wine in new bottles for too long – they haven’t been coming up with enough good answers. They need to open up their thinking to engage in new approaches and this is something that artists can offer engineers, architects, and landscape architects. For Rain Ravine, I worked with these three groups and they are all essential to creating a sculpture that looks good and works well.

The Frick Environmental Center project was “can you help make a building and its surrounding landscape be sustainable” because it is a Living Building Challenge. This is the second one in Pittsburgh, the first one being the Center for Sustainable Landscapes at Phipps. The idea of sustainability, I think, is best characterized by equity between nature and people, so that people are sharing their landscapes with the natural function of the Earth.

So, rain is something that happens, and thank God it does happen, because all of this moisture is what makes this landscape what it is – it sustains all of the life we have in this biome. But, we treat fallen rain like it’s a toxin – once it hits the asphalt, it something we don’t want, and that’s a big mistake, to turn something precious into a kind of pollution. This is a misdirected idea.

cascading steps with rain flowing down them, in between a building and a hillside

JS: How do you feel Rain Ravine helps people think differently about rain?
SL: Rain Ravine (pictured, above) carries the rain that has fallen onto the building’s roof down to the treatment wetlands. It’s a conveyance that allows you to see the action of the rain, how much rain there is, and it reveals the extraordinary flow of fresh water that happens between the sky and the ground. I think there is real joy to watch that water rushing down the stairway of stone. I also think it is essential to understand the presence of rain even when it’s dry and nothing is happening: the artwork is waiting to carry the rain when it does fall – like an anticipation – so the artwork has to be evocative even when it’s dry, and to create a place to sit and walk and play.

But, it’s also a magnification of the local geology and the rock formations that you see once you get into the more wild areas of the park. Rain Ravine makes a pattern that magnifies this very specific geological formation. It’s like a giant drawing of something you might miss because it’s small in the rocks that make up the stream bed - the artwork riffs on the form of exfoliating stone in the creek.

JS: On November 8, you’re going to share the stage with landscape architect Walter Hood and artist Alisha Wormsley. What do you feel are some intersections in your work and what do you hope to accomplish with this conversation?
SL: Well, I am very invested in a particular kind of equity that is about humans sharing the city with nature. And, doing a more fair distribution of what nature gets to use and what humans get to use. We’ve been building as if we’re slicing the pie and giving nature only one tiny slice and we get the rest. And, in order to live with nature, especially with the increased rains of climate change, we will have to give rain some serious real estate – more space – so it can soak in.

Blue and purple amorphous blobs in a plan showing a place for water and a place for people to coexistI think that Walter’s work shows a tremendous sensitivity to people who are moving through the space. They are not meant to be seen from a helicopter - they are great to move through. His landscapes are compassionate to people who are on the ground. He is thinking about what people want in their own experiences as they are in the landscape. I’ve looked at some of his projects and they set the stage for human interaction.

JS: Your work is about awareness, despite those who don’t believe in climate change. How can we move people from awareness to action? As artists, how can we be the change?
SL: My job as an artist is to introduce people to what nature is doing, and to celebrate it so that people want to know more about it. I want to give people a way to understand other patterns that are happening in the world that they might not have understood before. If I am really successful, I hope I make them fall in love with nature in the city, and the next time there is a zoning meeting, they stand up for the need for water to soak into the ground instead of being piped offsite. I am creating places that people and rain can share – and sharing the urban space with nature is absolutely critical and becoming even more important as we face greater frequency of storm events and a greater amount of rain that falls per storm. We used to be able to kind of ignore run-off, but it’s coming back to haunt us – the rain draws the maps, now.

Stacy Levy is an environmental artist. Her rain-based works include Rain Ravine at the Frick Environmental Center in Pittsburgh and the Rain Yard at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Philadelphia, allowing nature to show its very own patterns to the viewer. Stacy graduated from Yale University with a BA in Art and a minor in forestry.  She earned her MFA from Tyler School of Art, Temple University. She is a recipient of the Pew Fellowship in the Arts.  Ms. Levy lives in Central Pennsylvania in the Penn’s Creek Watershed.



old black and white image showing the building of Trafalgar Square in London
Dan Leers became the Carnegie Museum of Art’s second Curator of Photography in 2015, and has been getting us to look at photography in new and interesting ways ever since. Having just exhibited some of the world’s oldest photographs, the Carnegie Museum of Art will open a major exhibition of contemporary photography by Deana Lawson on March 15. Jen Saffron, Director of Communications at the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and a photographer, herself, talks with Dan Leers about his vision for the photography program at the museum and what photographs might do for Pittsburgh.

So, Dan, the Talbot show just closed out – awesome exhibition and very rare, not just for Pittsburgh. How did that happen?

I realized in so many of those pictures there was such incredible detail – you could get up close and count the cobblestones in the street, read the signs posted at the construction site of Trafalgar Square. This detail is a lot of what photography actually was for Talbot, that he could take the lens off this machine and it would record everything much more accurately than his hand could have ever drawn it. When you’re talking about detail, you are talking about time, nostalgia, history and I think all of those elements are present in his work and that was one reason for doing a show like that – simply showing these incredibly detailed and early photographs.

Another reason is our relationship with a generous donor of the museum, William Talbott Hillman who is a collector of photography and a photographer, himself, from Pittsburgh – he has a great relationship with the museum, and owns several Talbot photographs. When I first visited him to see his collection in New York City, these early, early photographs sparked the idea that this was the very beginning of photography, this is the first time I am meeting Mr. Hillman, and this is the perfect way to solidify the relationship with the museum.

In the course of organizing the show I was looking at his collection but also building on it with loans from places like the Metropolitan Museum of Art to fill out the big picture of who William Henry Fox Talbot was – he was the quintessential Renaissance man. He was someone who knew a little bit about a lot – botany and chemistry and art history and astronomy – and all of that is in the photographs. I saw themes running through these pictures: the idea of place, his house, his home, his family, his objects, still life, genre-type photographs. So, I started arranging this show and it became 31 photographs. On its face that doesn’t seem like a lot, but these things are incredibly fragile, so 31 is the largest Talbot show in this country in the past 15 years.

You just mentioned place, home, objects, still life imagery. Fast forward, you’re about to open Deana Lawson’s show. While Deana’s work almost looks like a candid photograph, we know from studying her work that these are highly posed works – they are so different than Talbot in mood, tone, temporality, yet you can see the relationship. Can you talk a little bit about how that relationship works for you, as a curator, when you’re looking at such different/similar bodies of work?

Probably there are more differences than similarities in the work but you’re right, there are genres like portraiture and still life that are very much present in Deana’s work that exist absolutely in Talbot’s. We can go back to Renaissance and Medieval art, and ground ourselves in conversations about Deana’s work in those [periods], but understanding that it’s significant that she herself is an African American photographer, female photographer, making pictures of other African American or African diaspora people. She’s taking those very traditional genres or themes and inserting her own vision into them. [Her sitters] bear the weight of heavier conversations about beauty and what is beauty and what defines beauty. And, how do we indicate wealth? Is it purely material or is there spiritual wealth?

I think Deana raises all of those questions in her beautiful and challenging and difficult way. I would say that most of the time her subjects look back at us and challenge us about what are accepted or stereotypical notions of beauty and identity. 
Part of it is about discomfort. I liken it to the car accident where you know you’re not supposed to look but you can’t help but rubberneck. That’s the sign of a good photograph, regardless of the subject, you want to look but you feel a little uncomfortable looking – you are challenged, you are on your toes, you are thinking in ways you may not have been thinking as a more passive viewer or a voyeur.


If we were take a 10,000 foot view of what you just said, it seems like you are interested in challenging the museum to think about photography in new ways, to reconsider its role in the museum and therefore think about the museum’s relationship to its audiences – what are you hoping to elicit from the audience? What do you think this show of Deana’s will elicit?

I’m interested in the different forms or functions of photography, and if you take Talbot as one book end then Deana is the other, and the history of photography happens in between. I think what’s really important is that I am trying to present different ways of looking at photography or making photography that people are probably familiar with at least in some way, but maybe they haven’t seen or thought about on their own. I am very interested in presenting a diversity of identities and perspectives that will hopefully serve a wide variety of the Pittsburgh local population as well as people coming to Pittsburgh from further afield.

I feel very fortunate that I work with photography in that it’s something almost everyone is comfortable with, now through our cell phones and it’s a way that most people feel like they can get a foothold in the museum. I’m looking for a hook, and photography can be that hook – when the subject of the photograph, like in Deana’s work, is looking right at you and you stop and lock eyes with them, then the experience may be more meaningful and different than you might have with any other kind of art work.

You’ve set about acquiring new artists and bodies of work for the museum’s photography collection. Knowing that people only see a fraction of the collection and the museum by its nature a collecting institution, what’s in our collection? You landed here as a curator and have this collection and also relationships with people outside the museum - relationships that can help shape the collection. What kind of collection do you want, and can you talk about some of your recent acquisitions?

Well, first off I will say that the collection here is an idiosyncratic one. We’ve got about 5,000 photographs, and about 75% of them are pictures of Pittsburgh or pictures made by somebody from Pittsburgh [and that’s not including the Teenie Harris Archive]. It’s certainly the largest holding of pictures of Pittsburgh in an art museum. And, rather than turning away from that, I am interested in embracing that and understanding that as our foundation.

That doesn’t mean we only acquire pictures of Pittsburgh. I’m interested in thinking about it more broadly. That can happen in a lot of different ways. If we think about pictures of Pittsburgh as pictures of a city, or pictures of an industrialized city, well that opens us to think about lots of places like NYC, Chicago, Birmingham, England or Birmingham, Alabama. We can also think about the concept of place - there are many photographers who lived in only one city and only made photographs in that place. What does that mean? What does that do for a collection of photographs?

Portrait of a man sitting in 3/4 profile in a grey suit, wearing glasses, looking at us and smiling.
I am also interested in expanding beyond what we could call the classic or canonical list of artists and movements in the history of photography. It’s only recently that museums have begun to think about vernacular photography or photography made by amateurs. One of the largest acquisitions I’ve made since I’ve come to the museum was about 200 photographs made by amateurs and hobbyists showing daily life. These are the kinds of photographs you have in shoeboxes under your bed. These are the postcards you see at the drugstore. This is the way that photographs exist for most of us. For most of us, we don’t have the pristine, framed black and white photographs, we have the family photo album. So, why isn’t that in our museum?

I’m also interested in expanding the collection in terms of the artists we are representing. Female artists, artists of color, LGBTQIA+ artists – people from these communities have been underrepresented in museum collections and exhibitions and I think that is a mistake. We’ve set about trying to build our collection by acquiring works by Deana Lawson and Mickalene Thomas and many other artists.  

I’ve also expanded the collection to include work by African photographers because I’ve lived in and done a lot of research on photography on the African continent. These are important works that have traditionally been ignored by museums. It’s not about presenting competing histories, it’s about parallel histories. What was happening in South African versus what was happening in the U.S.? What was happening in Brazil during a certain period of time? What was happening in Japan? I am really keen to have our collection raise and perhaps answer some of those questions. 

As you’ve been saying, photography is not in a vacuum and while some of what we do requires specialized gear and knowledge and science, the majority of photographs tare taken are taken by mothers of small children and we’re all taking photos with our phones. Photography is ubiquitous. So, what do you think is a healthy relationship between curators like you who are in a specialized world of collecting photographs for institutions and the galleries that support more local work and the local buyers? What does that ecosystem look like for you and how does that play out in Pittsburgh?

You hit on it by calling it an ecosystem. The Museum and I are a part of a constellation of outlets that support photography, whether it is Silver Eye or the Mattress Factory or Concept Art Gallery or the PGH Photo Fair all of those are different places where people experience or see photography. Not to mention all of the colleges and universities and their photography programs. I am very interested in being a contributing part of that constellation. We might have the ability, resources, and desire to show photography in a way that other institutions might not but that’s not better or worse, that’s just different.

I am also always interested in seeing what artists are doing – I take my cue from what photographers and artists are thinking about. I am a curator but I am also a person. I like meeting people and hearing what they are interested in. They make other introductions for me to artists and ideas I didn’t know about and I am eager to learn about, and I hope that it’s a two–way street. I hope in turn they can come here and learn something from us.

I don’t want to turn my back on the fact that Pittsburgh forms the backbone of our collection. I am eager to engage with local makers and have started conversations about acquisitions with local artists. I think an artist working here has just a viable practice as an artist working in New York City or any other place. These artists are sometimes even more interesting to us as we can connect it to our collection and our communities. If I find ways to make those local connections and expand them more broadly, then I am doing my job.


Photo captions, in order of appearance:

William Henry Fox Talbot

Nelson’s Column under Construction, Trafalgar Square, first week of April 1844

Salted paper print from a calotype negative

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Anonymous Gift and Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts; 2004 Benefit Fund; W. Bruce and Delaney H. Lundberg Gift; The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund, through Joyce and Robert Menschel; Susan and Thomas Dunn and Constance and Leonard Goodman

Katie Krauss
Dan Leers



Deana Lawson

‘Nation,’ 2017

inkjet print

© 2018 Deana Lawson



Page 2 of 4